The rejection today by the State Senate of Susan Dench’s nomination for a five-year term on the University of Maine System’s Board of Trustees is not a matter of raw partisan politics, as Governor LePage and even a respected Republican Senator like Roger Katz insisted afterward. Rather, it is a case of a majority of State Senators FINALLY paying more than lip service to their duties to examine nominees for various state boards, commissions, etc. The revelation that this is the first time since 1977 that a nominee for the Board of Trustees has been rejected is far more shocking than the vote against Susan Dench. The System itself began in 1968.
Putting aside the issue of whether or not Dench plagiarized one or more of her Bangor Daily News Op Ed columns, the notion that every nominee to such an important body as the System Board of Trustees should be approved solely to satisfy a governor’s wishes is flawed. What if a governor nominated someone who believed that the sun revolved around the earth, as many believed for centuries? What if a nominee denied the theory of evolution and read the Old Testament literally, with creation supposedly taking place over six days of twenty-four hours apiece? Since Maine, thank God, is not Rick Perry’s Texas, such nominees would, I hope, not be approved.
Of course there should be a diversity of views on the Board of Trustees. But that should not be the end of the matter. One would like to see Trustees of whatever political or ideological persuasion whose background and experiences provide intelligent perspectives on public higher education. Susan Dench doesn’t meet this test. Her controversial column that the New England Pilgrims or Puritans or both were socialists is so bizarre and so contrary to every serious scholar of early New England that that alone should have raised questions about her fitness for the Board.
The best outcome from today’s Senate vote would be greater scrutiny by State Senators and the media alike of future nominees for the Board of Trustees.
P.S. One of today’s two successful nominees, Sam Collins, was nominated for his first five-year term by Democratic Governor John Baldacci and was nominated for a second five-year term by Republican Governor LePage. The brother of Senator Susan and the current Chair of the Board, Sam Collins’ present and future service on the Board reflects a bi-partisan spirit too often missing in state as well as federal politics today.